Published on Friday, February 4, 2000 in the Boston Globe
Activists Target Fidelity Investments Offices In 20 Cities Over Occidental Petroleums' Oil Drilling On U'wa Indian Land In Colombia
by Karen Hsu
Environmental and human rights groups yesterday demonstrated outside Fidelity Investments offices in Boston and 19 other cities to protest the mutual fund company's stake in Occidental Petroleum Corp., which plans to drill for oil on land claimed by the U'wa Indians in Colombia.
The groups want Boston-based Fidelity to pressure Occidental to cancel the drillings and they have threatened to start a campaign to encourage customers to withdraw their money from the giant investment firm.
In Boston yesterday, about 50 people rallied in the bitter cold as customers tried to enter Fidelity's Congress Street offices. At one point, the bomb squad was called after someone tried to handcuff a briefcase with a tape recorder playing to one of the lobby doors.
Other protests at Fidelity offices took place in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Fidelity controls about 30 million, or about 8.5 percent, of Occidental's shares, the human rights and environmental groups said.
In Prague, Geneva, and Tel Aviv, the protest groups demonstrated in front of Colombian embassies.
The U'wa dispute the government's approval of a license for Occidental to drill for oil, Colombia's largest export, and have tried to block the drilling equipment.
Last week, the Colombian military began evicting a few members of the U'wa, a tribe of 5,000 Colombian Indians, from their property to a military base as machinery tried to move in.
The drill site is in an area of disputed land. Roberto Perez, the highest elected official of the U'was, says the site is about 1,600 feet from the tribe's reservation, but the Colombian government contends it is several miles away. Nonetheless, the area is considered part of the tribe's ancestral lands, Perez said in a telephone interview from Bogata, the capital. Perez said the tribe last year bought two farms on land that has become part of the drilling area.
The U'wa have threatened to walk off a 1,400-foot cliff in the Andes in a mass suicide to protect the land they considered sacred. Their ritual chants reminisce a time, hundreds of years ago, when many U'wa jumped off a cliff to avoid enslavement by Spanish invaders.
''It is not only ecocide, but cultural genocide,'' said Dune Lankard, a protester in Boston who came from Alaska. Lankard, 40, is a commercial fisherman who fought for compensation when the Exxon Valdez oil spill ruined his Eyak people's lands.
The protest was organized by Rainforest Action Network, Amazon Watch, and other organizations. Rainforest Action Network was effective last year in persuading Home Depot, the nation's largest retailer of lumber, to agree not to sell any wood from endangered forests.
A Fidelity spokesman yesterday said the resolution of such disputes should be in the hands of the government. ''The appropriate authorities of the world have the responsibility to address matters of this type. We would hope they would do so fairly and wisely on behalf of their citizens,'' said Vincent Loporchio, spokesman for Fidelity. ''Our responsibility is to weigh the impact of these issues on behalf of our mutual fund shareholders.'' Occidental did not return phone calls.
The activists have also targeted Vice President Al Gore, whose Occidental stock holdings are valued up to $500,000. Those shares came from his father when he sat on Occidental's board.
Simon Billenness, senior analyst at Trillium Asset Management in Boston, a socially responsible investment firm with $600 million in client assets, said that both Fidelity and Gore could influence the petroleum company.
''Both of them could easily pick up the phone and talk to the CEO of Occidental, which could send a very strong message that this project on U'wa lands is going to be counterproductive in the long term for Occidental,'' Billenness said.
### © Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.